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Leatherby’s Creamery continues to grow after 28 years in Citrus Heights

Dave Leatherby, Jr., son of founder Dave Leatherby, stands next to longtime employee Kari Erickson inside Leatherby’s Family Creamery in Citrus Heights. // Thomas J. Sullivan

By Thomas J. Sullivan—
Leatherby’s Family Creamery, located at the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Antelope Road, has been serving up delicious homemade ice cream in Citrus Heights since 1991.

The popular creamery at 7910 Antelope Rd. makes 50,000 gallons of ice cream a year in its Citrus Heights location, according to Michael Cremins, its general manager. Ice cream, sauces and toppings are made fresh on-site using family recipes and natural ingredients.

Ever since 1982, when the first Leatherby’s Creamery opened on Arden Way, customers from all over Northern California have flocked to the creamery for enormous sundaes, good food, and a fabulous family atmosphere.

Many people young and old have fond memories of challenging and devouring a “Daddy Dave” sundae which features a half-gallon’s worth of ice cream and hearty mix of toppings.

Founder Dave Leatherby, Sr. passed away early this year, and his son, Dave Jr. carries the family business proudly forward. He visits the Citrus Heights creamery often to talk to management and staff, and recently took time for an interview with The Sentinel.

The Leatherby family originally opened a café in Mount Plaza, Iowa in the 1940s and 1950s. It became a gathering place for the community and was the inspiration for Leatherby’s Family Creamery.

Today, Leatherby’s has three locations, one in Sacramento, its Citrus Heights creamery and another in Elk Grove.

The origination of the Citrus Heights location came after Dave Leatherby Sr. closed an interior mall location in 1989 at the Sacramento Executive Airport and began looking for a new suburban location. A flyover of the not-yet-incorporated community of Citrus Heights and the emerging neighborhood around the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Antelope Road caught his eye.

“My dad said this neighborhood in Citrus Heights was a perfect ‘Class A’ location with plenty of single-family homes, churches and schools nearby,” he said.

To his surprise, a vacant 5,600-square-foot retail site discovered at the corner of Antelope and Sunrise in that neighborhood, which had once been an ice cream store and already had the existing freezer space in place to begin operations, was available for lease. Its interior was refreshed with a blue and white theme, and classic wrought-iron ice cream parlor tables and chairs were added.

“We were a tenant for a time, and then we bought the building and expanded it,” Leatherby said.

Today, the creamery employs 85 people. Leatherby said he has no plans to leave Citrus Heights and if his family does add a location in the area, it would be in Roseville or Rocklin. Sales at the Citrus Heights creamery have grown steadily.

“For the first time this summer, our Citrus Heights creamery beat our parent Sacramento Arden store for monthly total sales,” Leatherby said, crediting the store’s manager and team for the accomplishment.

Keeping costs low and negotiating directly with key food suppliers in the region have kept the cost of making ice cream and his sandwich menu from climbing, Leatherby said. “The minimum wage has jumped from $8 to $15 per hour, and we want take care of our staff who contribute so much to our success.”

On average, the Citrus Heights creamery has the capacity to make 3,500 gallons of ice cream each week. Twenty-eight flavors are featured with seasonal flavors regularly added.

 “We also make ice cream cheaper than we can buy it,” he said. “We can offer more product per ounce than our competitors.”

Leatherby’s is known for its large portions, and those who finish off a legendary Daddy Dave’s Banana Special earn a photo on the Daddy Dave Wall of Fame. A hefty Daddy Dave includes approximately a half-gallon of ice cream and plenty of toppings.

“We remind our servers to never ask what size sundae a customer might prefer,” Leatherby said. “We’re always looking for the ‘wow’ factor when they see a sundae which we’ve made for them for the very first time. We honestly want them to be knocked out.”

All sundaes, creations and splits are generously topped with homemade whipped cream and a cherry. Chopped almonds are served separately upon request.

“All our servers go through “Sundae School”, to learn the basics of scooping ice cream and making a pleasing looking sundae,” Cremins said. “There’s an art to making the perfect sundae and placing each scoop of ice cream in just the right way. The weight of each sundae has to be precise and consistent.”

Ice cream parlor dishes are named after individual Leatherby family members. Old fashioned sundaes are served with vanilla ice cream and a choice of one topping: marshmallow, strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, or homemade caramel, chocolate, hot fudge or creamy peanut butter topping.

Creations include Alan’s Black & Tan, ($10.99) featuring creamy vanilla and toasted almond ice cream (Dave Leatherby’s own favorite ice cream), drowned in homemade caramel and chocolate fudge. Other favorites include Rita’s Strawberry Shortcake, ($11.29) with juicy strawberries layered between vanilla ice cream and tasty shortcake; and Jennifer’s Brownie Delight, ($9.29) a chocolate brownie served with vanilla ice cream and topped off with homemade hot fudge.

In addition to ice cream, Leatherby’s is also known for its specialty and deli sandwiches, homemade chili, soups and salads.

The creamery is also often a first job for many of its hosts and hostesses.

Manager Mike Cremins started with Leatherby’s at age 16 and he then went on to become a mortgage broker. He returned to work for the company, missing the fun he had at the creamery, and completed its management training program.

“No experience is needed, but just a giving heart,” Leatherby said. “We’re looking for people who take pride in providing a high level of customer service, and genuinely enjoy what they do.”

“We will be opening a few more locations in the near future,” Leatherby said, “and Mike, who now manages the Citrus Heights creamery, will be well taken care of.”

Kari Erickson transferred to the Citrus Heights location from the Sacramento creamery not long after it opened.

Leatherby’s offered her a flexible work schedule as her children were growing up, and she’s now been with the company 28 years.

“All four of my children, Holly, Boston, Dalton and Romeo have worked here. It’s a great family environment,” she said.

Leatherby’s Creamery donates extensively to local non-profits throughout the Citrus Heights and surrounding communities, including Boys and Girls scout troops and youth sports teams.

“Generally, we don’t advertise,” Leatherby said. “We’re very active on a grass-roots level in the local community.”

Giving back to the local community remains a company hallmark since the business began, he said. Dave Jr. is the oldest of 10 children. His wife, Jennifer, runs the crew at the Sacramento Creamery. “It’s a continuation of my father’s overall business philosophy.”

Cremins said some 180,000 coupons good for a free Leatherby’s ice cream sundae were donated to area school children in just this past year.

“My Dad’s personal business philosophy throughout his life was one of generosity, and in giving with a good heart,” said Leatherby. “(He) said it will always come back to you.”

“Some father’s build their children a treehouse. Mine built an ice cream parlor,” said Leatherby. “That’s his legacy. And who could ask for better than that.”

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